“God’s Not Dead” and Neither is Atheist Prejudice


October 24, 2013 by Devin

The following trailer for the upcoming Christian movie, God’s Not Dead, has popped up on my radar recently, and honestly, several aspects of it disturbed me. I’ll get into why in just a sec, but for now, check the trailer out for yourself.

Oh boy, here we go.

Now, there are several things that bother me in this trailer, but I am going to talk about the most pertinent one: this trailer characterizes atheists/agnostics/secularists as complete jerks. Every character who is not a Christian treats Christianity like being in a cult that sacrifices babies. Even the main character’s girlfriend treats the protagonist’s religion like an annoying habit that he should have grown out of.

I mean, look at the teacher. Immediately without any further explanation, he tells the students to agree with the idea, “God is dead.” [1] He does not make his point through teaching the students about the philosophy and rationality behind atheism but rather through simply stating his point and acting like it is a divine command.

In short, he is an a-hole.

I hope you can see the problem in this, but sadly a lot of people will not. I want to point you to an actual debate between an atheist and a Christian. The entire debate is worth watching, but if you do not have an hour and a half to watch it, just watch the beginning of Dr. Philip Zuckerman’s opening statement starting at 13:35.

Compare these two atheists, one a fictional creation and one an actual human being. Dr. Philip Zuckerman starts out his debate by thanking the Christians that invited him to speak and for the effort to increase interfaith communication. He is polite and courteous even when he is being critical of religion. In short, he acts like a normal human being. He even points out the many beneficial ideas Christianity espouses (in other words, like most atheists/agnostics he is not an anti-theist)

I also want to point to another video, this one by way of The Friendly Atheist. [2] Again, the whole thing is worth watching, but I want to point out how Hemant Mehta responded to an attack on his job as an educator starting at 7:42.

These atheists act like normal human beings, and that should not be a revelation to people but sadly, it is. [3]

I am not saying that Dr. Philip Zuckerman is indicative of all secular humanists, as I have seen many atheists act like jerks, but I am telling you that that caricature in God’s Not Dead is just that: a caricature that is rooted in exaggerations of the most extreme examples.

The problem is that atheists are a poorly understood group. Sure, most people look at atheists as logical, but in my experience, the popular characterization of atheists is that they are a group of people who have sacrificed meaning, beauty, and optimism for cold-hearted rationality, which is probably a contributing reason to why atheists are one of the most disliked groups and the least trusted group in America.

I think this disconnect comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of atheism. For example, in the trailer for God’s Not Dead, the main character looks at the atheist antagonist and says, “Why do you hate God?” I guarantee you in the movie that this question shakes the professor to his core and makes him reevaluate his position, but in real life, such a question directed at an intelligent atheist would be met with ridicule. Such a question would be the equivalent of asking a Christian why he or she hates Thor. [4]

Ultimately, the problem with contemporary society in regards to atheism right now is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of who atheists are and why they are the way they are. This fundamental misunderstanding has led to mistrust and gross mischaracterizations of atheists, and this movie is not helping.

And furthermore, I am going to go out on a limb and say that this propaganda is not incredibly Christlike. Matthew, one of the 12 apostles, was a tax collector, a profession that was not trusted or liked by the general populace in that culture. In fact, Matthew’s presence was what a lot of the Pharisees used as an argument against Jesus. “Look at how he eats food with the tax collectors” they said, yet Jesus saw beyond the general perception of that group and treated people like people.

Yet this movie seeks to expand upon misconceptions and further the divide between Christians and atheists. From what it looks like from the teaser trailer, it will not address any complaints serious atheists will have. It will not better prepare Christians for talking to atheists. It will not foster communication between these two groups.

Debates like the one linked above will help foster communication and help both groups come to a greater understanding of each other, but those efforts are marred by those who believe atheists are spiteful individuals out to get them.

I want to end this with a quote from Hemant Mehta that he says at the end of his talk.

It’s very easy to vilify and demonize these people that we always hear about. It’s a lot harder and probably way more productive to reach out to those people.

He was not talking about atheists. He was talking from the perspective of an atheist trying to connect with Christians and seeing the best in them. He is making the effort, and I really wish more Christians would respond similarly.

Other observations:

  • Josh Wheaton sounds like a weird expy of Joss Whedon.
  • “Science supports his existence!” Wait, what? As C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, science answers different questions than theology, so saying that science supports God’s existence is like saying my opinion of The Dark Knight affects the taste of butter.
  • I am interested in how they can justify a Newsboys concert in the middle of the movie. I bet it won’t be nearly as good as the justification used for Down Under the Big Top.


1. What I find interesting is that many in the Christian movement will criticize the “God is dead” saying while not realizing that the saying, at least as far as I understand it, is more about the cultural and societal rejection of God: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” Many of these same people who claim “God’s not dead” also claim that we live in a sinful and fallen world that is rejecting God… which is what Nietzsche was getting at.
2. It is important to note that The Friendly Atheist blog regularly corresponds with Rachel Held Evans, and the two are an excellent example of interfaith communication done well.
3. For another view on this subject, check out this article from Relevant Magazine. I borrowed several sources from this piece.
4. Which is preposterous because why would anyone hate Thor?

10 thoughts on ““God’s Not Dead” and Neither is Atheist Prejudice

  1. tinyorc says:

    Wow. That professor character is a supreme example of a straw atheist. Also, has anyone involved in the making of this movie ever… been to a philosophy class?

  2. Charle says:

    To be fair, these are a whole lot of conclusions to draw from the trailer. For all we know the movie in its entirety might not be so bad.

    • Devin says:

      On one hand, that’s fair, as the trailer does hint at another side of the teacher and so he may be a lot more sympathetic in the actual movie.

      On the other hand, even in this short trailer, he used several arguments that at best are inaccurate and at worst are simply dickish. I think it is clear that the professor is not supposed to be a good guy and fall in line with many other atheist professor caricatures.

      If the movie comes out and it’s excellent, though, I will gladly eat my words.

  3. ramiro hernandez says:

    propaganda possibly with money from the republican party, the palin movement, or the ducks. lol. so unfortunate that the educational level of america is so low and will actually see this low quality movie.

  4. […] wrote about the time the Newsboys made a movie (no not that one) and how well it holds up today. I hope you check it out, both the blog post and the movie if you […]

  5. […] after writing about God’s Not Dead and my problems with the trailer, I figured I should at least watch the movie in question. As a Christian-turned-atheist in the […]

  6. Great article. I am facing some of these issues as well..

  7. Caroline says:

    The whole point of this article reveals that you haven’t watched the movie, which explains the bias evaluation. Watch the movie, and you’ll realize that there are no “atheist prejudice” going on in the film. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, this movie will touch you. To be honest, a film like this needed to be released, because as a college student who is surrounded by non believers, I am constantly shunned for me spirituality. I took a class on Buddhism, just because even though I believe in God, doesn’t mean I’m opposed to learning about other spiritual beliefs, yet I was still subjected to ridicule for my beliefs. So before one considers the “oh woe is me, Christians pick on me all the time”, realize it goes both ways.

    • Tom says:

      Seriously? What movie were you watching? This film was all ABOUT atheist prejudice. To the core.

      In fact, let’s summarize it. From this movie, we can gather the following:

      1. Non-believers are angry, seething, arrogant, condescending, hateful, shallow, morally bankrupt, evil pricks. They probably eat live kittens for breakfast and tie women to railroad tracks while wearing a top hat and a cape. They used to play Hercules on TV (though few people remember this ’cause geez, was that a total chick show or what?).

      2. They work as college philosophy professors where they display uncontained contempt for the concept of God. They will blatantly force this opinion onto their students, and make them openly deny their religious beliefs in exchange for a passing grade. Which is not the least bit illegal.

      3. Believers are determined, morally sound, and always hopeful yet slightly worrisome people who never have a bad word to say about anybody. They won’t go to the authorities or even a newspaper to complain about this professor’s behavior, or even to expose the fact that he’s shagging a former student who got a good grade even though she believes in God, too. Believers won’t do that, because they’re too nice.

      4. Believers will come to class the next day to defend their position that God’s not dead with a fully-formed hi-tech multimedia presentation demonstrating the Big Bang Theory in full Discovery Channel-style animated graphics suggesting (quite plausibly, I might add) that this equates to “let there be light” and thus maybe God caused it.

      5. Non-believer professors will counter with “Stephen Hawking says there is no God. He’s smarter than you. I win.” They will then nervously confront believers in the hall with a typical “If you pursue this any further, I will make it my point to destroy you” speech as ominous piano music plays in the background. Believers still won’t file a complaint with the college over these threats.

      6. Believers’ girlfriends are controlling shrews who will tell them “I forbid you to defend your convictions because our entire future together hinges on your grade in this 3-credit freshman level class.” They will then punt on the 6-year relationship (do the math – 7th grade) when the believer boyfriend defies this order. They’ll even pull out the tried and true “My mother was so right about you.”

      7. Believers will continue their assertion of God’s existence with a discussion of the Cambrian Explosion, suggesting that this “sudden” appearance of vertebrate life in the fossil record proves that there was a creator guiding the whole process, conveniently ignoring (1) that the Cambrian Explosion still lasted some 20 million years instead of one day 6,000 years ago, (2) that man was also supposedly created on that day even though bipedal mammals wouldn’t appear in the fossil record for another 500 million years, and (3) that it is exceptionally rare to find a soft-bodied fossil since you generally need mineralized solids (bones or shells) before you can make a fossil. Now, if you want to argue that this is one of those believers who doesn’t adhere strictly to the Genesis creation narrative…he directly quoted “Let there be light” in his first lecture. Seems pretty clear that’s his story and he’s not sticking to it. Either way, the Cambrian Explosion is not proof (nor lack thereof) of a god.

      8. Non-believers hate God. Because God took away their mother despite their prayers. “A-ha!” says the believer, “How can you hate what doesn’t exist?” Non-believer shakes fist in “You win this round, Mr. Bond”-type fashion as the class gleefully applaud their fellow student. The original assignment here was to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper. Could this same argument not have been used right then and there? How can you say something is dead that you believe was never was alive in the first place? Oh, but now I’m being nitpicky, since after all this is just a PHILOSOPHY CLASS.

      9. Non-believers are total antagonistic jerks who get all up in the faces of Christian rock stars and reality TV stars, who will just respond with smiles and a bunch of “Jesus loves you” rhetoric. But to be fair, this non-believer is only mad at God because she has terminal cancer and just got dumped by the guy who played Superman on TV (though few people remember this ’cause geez, was that a total chick show or what?).

      10. Non-believers are compassionless assholes who will instantly dump their girlfriends for having cancer and are openly annoyed at having to spend time with their dementia-stricken mothers. A lot of this movie revolves around dead/dying mothers. If you loved your mother and prayed for her to live but she died anyway, that’s a shame, but you’re a dick for losing your faith over it. If you never had faith to begin with, well then you were a dick all along, and we can see that by how you treat your poor dying mother who apparently still lives at home alone despite being an obvious danger to herself at this point. Now please go let her cat out of the microwave.

      11. Reality TV star wives wear totally smokin’ curve-hugging dresses to church to remind other parishioners that they still wanna hit that.

      12. Again, if it wasn’t clear with the whole dead mother thing and the dying passably-attractive woman thing…non-believers only got that way because God didn’t give them what they wanted. Not because they’ve merely analyzed all information given to them and concluded that they don’t find it plausible that an omnipotent omnipresent omniscient creator with human-like thoughts, emotions and judgments exists, and yet are totally capable of living a happy do-right-by-others life based on integrity while also respecting people who hold the opposite belief. “But without God, there’s no reason to behave morally,” says the Believer. Yeah that’s why most people on death row believe in God.

      13. God exists, because he will cause a car to not kill you instantly when it hits you. Instead, he will let you live a few more minutes so that a pastor who looks like the guy from Nickelback can spend your final moments explaining this to you, convincing you that you really do believe in him, and telling you, “Yeah, you’re definitely gonna die,” instead of comforting you and saying “Stay with me, an ambulance is on the way.” When you do close your eyes and stop breathing, there is no sorrow or attempt to revive you, only celebration and high-fives. “We converted another one!”

      14. Muslims will instantly disown children who declare their love for Jesus. Sadly, this one is probably more true than not. Having said that, this little side story is totally here because it has something to do with the rest of the film and not just to remind believers that they should also look down upon other believers who don’t believe in THEIR god.

      15. Chinese people are only slightly better than Muslims. But despite being born and raised what was once an atheist state (and has been turning away from that for quite some time now, but accuracy be damned), they too are convertible in the course of three 20-minute lectures by a fellow freshman. They also have one of those dads who spends all day riding in the back of a limo yelling into a phone.

      16. Christian rock bands don’t have bass players. They do however have goofy drummers.

      That is all. Now if you excuse me, I’m gonna go watch “Cosmos” again.

  8. Sydni says:

    I understand what you are saying, and as an atheist, I agree that there should be more movies about the coming together of different religions and people with different ideas. I think this does put atheists in a bad light,but like you said, there are a-hole atheists in the world,and just like how not every jock is an a-hole like depicted in every coming of age movie, this movie is there to speak to the Christians who have been victimized because of their faith. I do believe that there should be movies for atheists who have been victimized for their lack of faith though. I appreciate the read but there is an audience for every movie and thus movie just happens to be targeting a certain brand of Christian.

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The Good Greatsby

Paul Johnson's comedy blog: I didn't get into comedy to be rich or famous. All I've ever wanted was to be loved...by somebody rich and famous.

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